LEWISTON – Safe Voices, the nonprofit organization that provides shelter and support services for domestic violence and sex trafficking survivors in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, is looking to raise $1 million by the end of 2022 for a new resource center at its office building on Lisbon Street.
Fundraising began in February and Tuesday marked the public launch of the campaign, which has raised about $560,000 so far.
Safe Voices was established in 1977 and has offices in Lewiston, Farmington, Rumford and South Paris. In addition to support services for victims and their families, the organization operates a 17-bed emergency family shelter and a six-bed emergency safe house.
Safe Voices serves 1,500 to 2,000 individuals each year, according to promotional materials.
The fundraising campaign, dubbed The Blueprint, will go toward the completion of “a comprehensive, trauma-responsive domestic violence and sex trafficking resource center” in the heart of downtown Lewiston.
“We have our name on our door,” Executive Director Elise Johansen said at a campaign kickoff Tuesday. “This is the first time in our 45 years we have had our name ever outside of our building.”
Victoria Stanton, director of development and engagement, said the sign is “a sign of the times for us stepping out of the shadows,” and a message to survivors to not be ashamed that they are seeking help.
There are no identifying markers at Safe Voices’ other offices and the locations of shelters are kept confidential for safety reasons.
The organization recently moved out of its former office space on Main Street and into the three-story, 12,000-square-foot building at 100 Lisbon St.
While staff and volunteers have already begun working with clients in the office space, a large backroom on the ground floor and spacious unfinished basement remain “raw,” in Stanton’s words.
But, by the end of 2022, Johansen said these spaces will look a little different.
The ground floor space will be transformed into a “program hub,” with a community kitchen, private space for clients to meet with staff, a technology center with computer access, a meditation space and a family lounge.
Downstairs, half of the space will be a free boutique with clothes and furniture and the other half will be a “fully tech-enabled training and meeting space for up to 40 people, accessible 24 hours a day by community members.”
“This space is going to be full of life and love and care,” Johansen said. “And survivors will be able to hopefully feel that every single day when they’re coming through this program hub and accessing computers and technology, being able to sit alongside an advocate to get their needs met, to go downstairs into the free boutique that is going to be a retail-looking space where they can (get) things for free that they need in order to make a safe home.”
About 30 community members attended the kickoff. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, the Lewiston Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, and U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins spoke via prerecorded video messages.
“(Safe Voices) is critically important to combating domestic violence, to ensuring that the victims of domestic violence have a safe place to go,” Golden said in a video. “I can’t tell you how important this is and this organization is at the heart of it all.”
Johansen said Golden was the campaign’s first contributor.
“I’m very excited that they’re going to be opening up this new facility right in the heart of downtown Lewiston, which is the right move, is an important one, (and) it’s going to help this organization grow and have the stronger presence in this community and beyond.”
For more information, visit safevoices.org.